Classes finally started at FGV this week, making this my third week in Brazil. So far I’ve met a bunch of new people, toured São Paulo and the beautiful countryside, and gotten a chance to really adapt to this new country.
Probably one of the biggest similarities of home in Texas and Brazil is that they’re both extremely hot. If I ever felt homesick I could just stand outside and close my eyes and pretend I’m sweating it out on the Drag in Austin. The heat is just as bad. Outside of that, its very different. I thought that when I moved to Austin from the little city of Beaumont in Southeast Texas, that I was moving to the “big city.” No, no, no. Not even Houston is the “big city” with its measly 2.1 million people. São Paulo has around 11.3 million people, not including the people living in the entire metropolitan area, which would total around 19 million people. It’s so crowded that everyone has a day called a rodízio where they can’t drive until after 8pm in an attempt to relieve the streets from suffocating too badly. Unfortunately, in São Paulo, there is traffic at all hours. For instance, we were driving back to São Paulo after a weekend in the countryside and got stuck in traffic at 10 PM- not traffic caused by an accident, but traffic caused by everyone else who had left the city to relax in the countryside and was now returning back to work. Caramba!
Fortunately, São Paulo has an excellent underground Metro system. I was very impressed with it. It’s clean (compared to New York), and the trains are fast and arrive promptly. I’ve ridden the metro before in New York and Europe but had never had the experience of dealing with rush hour since we always carefully avoided it. Two days a week I have to go to school during rush hour in the morning and its probably the most stressful part of my day. Like I said, the trains arrive pretty fast, around every 5 minutes or less. The problem is, when they DO arrive, they are already so full of people, maybe only 2 or 3 people can manage to squeeze in, if anyone at all. I would say that it takes an average of 4-5 trains to go by before I can get on. Once I manage to do that, I try and find the least awkward way for me to stand while shoved up against so many people. Important note: avoid eye contact. We’re all so shoved together that I don’t need to hold on to any rails for support, people are so tightly crammed in around me that we hold each other up. This is a prime time to get pick-pocketed, so I always make sure my bag is zipped and that the zipper is in front of me in full view.
I was warned that walking around São Paulo could be dangerous. The crime in São Paulo is pretty bad, and you have to be aware of what’s going on instead of walking around buried in your iPhone. I avoid walking alone at night, but during the day there are a lot of people walking around so its fine. One thing I have noticed though is that when women are walking, regardless of what they look like or what they’re wearing, men will yell at them, call them disgusting names, honk their horns, rev their motorcycles etc. You would think the women were naked dancing down the street to Samba music the way men stare at them here. But no, even wearing a shirt and jeans will get you catcalls.